07/15/2014 03:07 EDT | Updated 09/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Beached dolphins rescued twice near St. George's

A pod of dolphins recently wound up stranded on the shore in southwestern Newfoundland, turning what would have been a regular day at the beach into a rescue effort for a group of people.

The experience on Sunday was an unusual one, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) responded to almost the exact same situation the following day.

Stacey White, one of the beachgoers Sunday, said when people realized they were looking at dolphins stuck on sandbars on Black Bank near St. George's, there was no hesitation to try and save them.

"We rushed down to the shoal. Pretty much everyone on the beach worked together to pull all seven into deeper water, and it was amazing to touch them. They were very heavy, very strong and very beautiful," she said.

"They don't seem very big, but they're very solid and we were pulling them out. I got slapped in the leg by a tail and almost went down."

White said dragging the dolphins over the sandbars was a lot of hard work, but she was happy to do it if it meant saving the animals.

"Oh my goodness, I don't think I'll see anything like it again. It was incredible," said White.

"I think everybody felt really lucky to be in the right place at the right time."

Similar situation

On Monday, the DFO got a call about a similar situation just a few kilometres away from Black Bank; seven dolphins again stranded on a beach, about 100 metres from the ocean.

Patrick Ryan, a DFO officer in Stephenville, said the dolphins were lucky the skies were overcast, otherwise they may not have survived.

"They seemed pretty stressed out. They were dry and still breathing, moving around a little bit. It seemed like they were on their last legs," he said.

Ryan said responders used an all-terrain vehicle with a trailer to tow the dolphins one by one back out into the water, while one person stayed behind to continue to pour water on the remaining dolphins to keep them hydrated.

He said workers waded into the water with the dolphins to ensure they were well enough to swim away on their own.

"They started to lift their heads on their own and right themselves again and it seems like they were gaining energy by the minute," said Ryan.

"When they wanted to go and we felt they wanted to go, we let them go."

Reason unclear

The DFO suspects it was the same pod of dolphins both times, but biologist Jack Lawson said it's not clear why the dolphins ended up on the beach twice.

"The leader of the group may be ill and the rest just follow him ashore, as pilot whales and sperm whales do," said Lawson.

"It could have been that they were after squid or fish. If there was a capelin aggregation, these guys also feed on capelin, they could have been up trying to feed on that and just got caught by the tide." 

Lawson said if the dolphins stranded themselves intentionally for some reason, he fears they may try to do the same again, adding they likely won't survive if humans aren't around to intervene.

"Generally, if you get an animal group that's stranded more than once then the probability of stranding a third, perhaps final, time is quite high."

This is the same species of dolphin that was caught in ice off Cape Ray in the winter. In March, 40 white-beaked dolphins died in jagged pack ice of Newfoundland's southwest coast.